December 7, 2001
WHAT A WONDERFUL EVENING. I'm talking about the event last Wednesday night at the Motion Picture Academy. It was a
program about Walt Disney — not the company, not the channel, not the corporate entity but the man in the picture above...the man pretending to
be finishing a drawing that was probably done by someone else. On the date he would have been 100 years young, fans, co-workers and even a few
family members convened to celebrate Walt and to view a perfectly-selected program of films.
Leonard Maltin was the host. We had dinner before the event and he expressed some trepidation that he would handle things
properly — and he was, of course, worrying needlessly. He did a superb job of introducing clips, interviewing guests and providing
spot-on factual info about Mr. Disney.
The film program consisted of excerpts from a number of Disney-produced movies, plus one whole Mickey Mouse short and couple of
curios. One amazing item was the recently-unearthed footage of voice actor Billy Bletcher and Walt recording dialogue for a Mickey
cartoon. Seeing Walt's face with Mickey's voice coming out of it provided a fascinating link between a man and his mouse. Later, when
Walt's daughter Diane narrated some home movies, one could see an even more pronounced connection.
The real "find" of the night was a 10-minute sales film that was lensed shortly before the Disneyland TV show made its
debut. It was made only to be shown to execs and/or perhaps stockholders at one of the companies that was sponsoring the new show — Derby
Foods, purveyors of Peter Pan peanut butter. In the film, ABC president Robert Kinter keeps interviewing and praising Walt...who is obviously
bored out of his skull by the whole experience and resenting ever second he has been forced to spend making this stupid sales pitch. It
resembles that sketch on The Carol Burnett Show wherein Harvey Korman is making a horrendously insipid speech and it's all Tim Conway can do
to not doze off. Every time the network biggie is talking, Walt is fidgeting and playing with some drawings on his desk...and you can almost
read a thought balloon over his head that says, "Why must I put up with this nonsense? I have important things to do." Perhaps it is
reading too much into the film to say it displays The Impatience of Genius. But when it was over, everyone in the audience the other night sure
felt like they knew Walt Disney — the private man, not the public spokesman — a wee bit better.
Other insights were provided by some guests — Ilene Woods, who provided the voice of Cinderella; master matte painter Peter
Ellenshaw, director Ken Annakin, and actor Robert Stack (who's 82 but looks like he shot The Untouchables a year or two ago). But the
real treat was to hear — and for some of us, to meet at the earlier reception — three of the legendary "Nine Old Men" of Disney
Animation. Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball appeared, and the love and respect of the crowd for these three legends was, in
itself, thrilling. They all spoke affectionately of Walt, as did everyone, and of his amazing willingness to spend whatever it took to achieve
the best possible product. (The picture above shows — left to right — Johnston, Thomas and Kimball, chatting with Ms. Woods.)
In fact, the reception and audience were filled with folks who worked with Walt — and, by the way, I don't think anyone referred
to him as "Mr. Disney" or even "Disney" the entire evening. He was Walt to everyone, now and forever. His life and times were discussed
for almost three hours and, as amazing as what was mentioned was what wasn't. Talk about barely scratching the surface: No one got around to
mentioning around 90% of his features and 99% of his shorts. Disneyland (the theme park) was barely mentioned. The comic books, the comic
strips, the toys, the technological breakthroughs that are credited to Disney and those he hired...there wasn't time for any of that. Even
Goofy didn't get a mention.
Usually, I write these reports as much for myself as for any of you. I figure they'll serve as a diary to remind me of great
events, long after they occurred. But this was an evening I won't forget. I don't think anyone who was there will forget it, either.
OF THE ABOVE articles, I would most like to direct your attention to Joe Brancatelli's, which well articulates a belief I've had
for some time. It is that our nation's airlines are, with the token exception, managed about as badly as humanly possible. A year or
three ago, another reporter covering the airline beat said to me, "If you picked anyone at random off the street and installed them as the CEO of
American Airlines, they could not do a much worse job."
The amazing thing is that you have airlines that are flying at 90+% capacity and charging fees that most passengers feel are
exorbitant...and these companies still are not turning a decent profit. The government bailouts that were arranged after 9/11 were
needed before the planes hit the World Trade Center. And a point Joe doesn't make in his excellent article is this: There are
people out there still arguing that we should trust the same geniuses who run the airlines to arrange for proper security on their flights.
Yeah, sure, that makes sense.
So how long do we think it'll be before some airline seeks to attract customers by inventing a kind of "Fast Pass" security club?
You sign up for a I.D. card and they run a background check on you, making certain you have no criminal record, Arabic ancestry or facial hair.
The card is matched to some sort of positive identification procedure — say, one of those "Eye-dentifier" machines that photographs the
patterns of blood vessels in your eyeballs — and if you pass, you can check right in without a long wait...all baggage cross-referenced to the
passenger and x-rayed, no carry-on luggage larger than a medium-sized purse. The airline will also find some way to imply in its advertising
that it has real, trained security personnel, unlike the illegal aliens running the faulty metal detectors at their competitors...and instead of a
Fare War, we'll have a Security War. Someone's bound to try it...
That's right. We're still waiting for The Game Show Network to rerun the two episodes of Press Your Luck in which
an unemployed air conditioning mechanic named Michael Larsen figured out a way to beat the "wheel" for over $110,000. It was one of the most
amazing things I've ever seen on TV. We're told that GSN has the episodes and will soon announce when they'll air. They'd better.
MY LONGTIME FRIEND Jack Enyart is teaching a course in how to create and pitch animation projects. If you're in L.A. and
you want to learn that side of the biz, I can't imagine anyone who could tell you more than Jack. Details can be had over at www.gnomon3d.com.
ANOTHER OF my best pals is a brilliant cartoonist named Carol Lay, who produces the pithy weekly feature, Story
Minute. You can read it online at www.salon.com and at her own website. And if you
go to her website, you can see other Carol-created goodies and you can order some Lay Goodies that you will want and love and treasure. So
here's a banner ad for Carol's site. Click on it. Go there. Spend money. Laugh.
Click here to read the previous NEWS FROM ME